Jailed former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho bribery trial: prosecutors ‘reject flats as surety, fearing China would interfere’
City’s former home affairs minister detained and awaiting trial, suspected of bribing African officials to help Chinese energy firm bag oil rights
US prosecutors have rejected former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping’s offer of two flats in the city as bail surety ahead of his bribery trial, for fear that the Chinese government could somehow block them from ever claiming the properties.
Their decision – which a former prosecutor said showed a “lack of familiarity” with the city’s legal system – was revealed by the defence as the sides attempted to make a deal.
New York Southern District Court will hear Ho’s third bail attempt on Thursday. Ho, Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary from 2002 to 2007, has been held since November last year on suspicion of bribing African officials to help secure oil rights in Uganda and Chad for a Shanghai-based energy firm.
He has pleaded not guilty to five counts of bribery and three counts of money laundering.
He had previously sought to give US$2 million cash surety, along with a US$10 million personal recognisance bond, and submit to house arrest as part of a bail package.
His latest proposal was to add his mother and brother’s flats in Hong Kong into the equation, whilst also upping the cash surety to US$3 million. The defence signalled the deeds of the flats – valued at a combined US$4 million – could be handed to the court, with both relatives stating formally that the government could sell off the flats if Ho flees.
“The government summarily rejected this proposal despite the well-established eviction procedures in Hong Kong,” the defence noted in a submission to court on Wednesday.
“Because it was concerned that the Chinese government might somehow override the judicial processes in Hong Kong as a political matter.”
Prosecutors also rejected Ho’s suggestion of adding at least US$2 million to the surety from cash the relatives could raise using the flats as collateral, according to the submission. They cited worries that CEFC China Energy – named in court documents as the energy firm involved – “would pay off the debts to the banks” if Ho fled.
The defence countered that there was no evidence that China or CEFC would intervene.
Former New York federal prosecutor Patrick Sinclair said that although it was uncommon for foreign property to feature in a bail package, prosecutors’ concerns showed a “lack of familiarity” with Hong Kong’s independent judicial system.
He said US prosecutors were often concerned about defendants’ home governments recovering such properties, but it went too far to say the Chinese government could influence the outcome.
“That’s not an informed decision,” he said. “That’s just a lack of familiarity with the independent nature of the property rights of Hong Kong and independent Hong Kong courts.”
Ho’s team’s latest submission revised its estimate that he could get 12 to 15 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts. It insisted there was a low chance of him fleeing.
By prosecutors’ estimate, Ho could face between 24 and 30 years in jail if convicted, with a potential fine of between US$50,000 and US$500,000.
And in their latest submission to court relating to bail consideration, prosecutors mentioned the allegation that Ho is “an organiser or leader of the criminal activity” and that the offer to bribe involved “an elected public official or public official in a high-level decision-making or sensitive position”. They also said there had been “more than one bribe”.
Energy firm executive makes surprise appearance at former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho’s bail hearing
Separately, they confirmed that Ho’s legal fees “have been paid to date” by CEFC or its affiliates. It said there was no guarantee on future costs.
The prosecution had called for a hearing to determine if Ho’s lawyer had a conflict of interest, representing Ho while being paid by CEFC. Ho’s lawyer said he would not challenge holding such a hearing and would propose that a different lawyer represent Ho for it.
The US Department of Justice earlier confirmed it would summon CEFC chairman Ye Jianming to clarify the issue of legal costs.